October 4, 2023
PROTECTION OF FARMERS — Farmers and traders continue their business at the La Trinidad Vegetable Trading Post even as prices of farm inputs continue to increase due to rising oil prices at the world market and smuggling of vegetables mostly from China. The Senate committee of the whole proposed to create a task force against smuggling that would involve those from the livestock, vegetable, rice and corn sectors. — Ofelia Empian

Replacing officials and personnel of the Bureau of Customs, especially those who are with the agency for a long time, could be one of the solutions to combat smuggling that greatly contributes to sabotaging the country’s economy.
Sen. Chiz Escudero underscored this last week, as he told reporters Filipinos do not believe that BOC officials could not do something to eliminate smuggling.
“Palitan sila at i-assign sa ibang mga ahensya,” said Escudero, who is knowledgeable on the state of agriculture of the country. 
Growing up, Escudero was with circle of top agriculturists as his late father, Salvador, was minister of Food and Agriculture during the Marcos administration and Agriculture secretary during the Ramos administration.
Escudero said he is aware of the plights of the vegetable farmers in Benguet and some parts of the Cordillera due to the unabated smuggling of vegetables and other crops especially those from China.
Allocating more funds to the Department of Agriculture to boost its programs and projects, especially in the countryside, is also one of the possible solutions to increase production to counter smuggling and lessen the country’s level of importation.
He, however, claimed that DA gets lower budget allocation compared to other agencies such as the Department of Public Works and Highways. In the 2022 budget, DA was allocated P102.5 billion while DPWH got P786.6B.
“Mula sa national budget, gusto po natin itanong kung tayo ba ay bansa ng inprastraktura o bansa ng agrikultura?” Escudero asked.
At the Senate committee inquiry, senators claimed they believe that ranking government officials, including unnamed politicians, are allegedly protectors of smuggling of vegetables.
The Senate has resumed its Committee of the Whole investigation on illegal importation of vegetables and other crops from China following the privilege speech of Senate President Vicente Sotto III in December. Before his privilege speech, Sotto met with stakeholders of the vegetable industry in the Cordillera where illegal importation was their top concern.
During the investigation, reports said that Agriculture Asec. Federico Laciste Jr. confirmed that “big-time” personalities are involved in smuggling.
The League of Associations at the La Trinidad Vegetable Trading Areas had shared to Sotto some of its documentations detailing the distribution of vegetables such as carrots from China that are openly distributed and sold at the local markets.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson also expressed dismay at how concerned government agencies are acting on the complaints on illegal importation of vegetables during his recent visit in Baguio City and Benguet.
Benguet, Mountain Province, and Ifugao contribute more than 80 percent of the country’s demand for temperate vegetables. – Harley F. Palangchao